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Bottoms ★★★1/2

Availability: Showing widely in theaters; streaming expected in November; see JustWatch here for future streaming availability.


Fight Club Goes Queer


Two high school lesbian losers set out to find sexual partners by starting a fight club in this raucous, over-the-top comedy where girls hit each other in the face. If this seems not your ideal movie experience, think again, maybe even think “Barbie.” True, Emma Seligman in her second film is no Greta Gerwig, and “Bottoms’” $11 million budget is less than a tenth of “Barbie’s.” But Seligman’s willingness to take on the Woke culture, to make fun of almost everything in sight—from feminism to terrorism—makes “Bottoms” an entertaining 90 minutes.


Above, Rachel Sennott, left, as PJ and Ayo Edebiri, right, as Josie; it's these two almost-30 actresses (playing 17 year-olds)—with a good supporting cast—who bring the comedy home.

Leave your reality checks at home, because Seligman, born in 1995, uses two actresses born that year, that is, a decade beyond high school age, with no attempt to make them look 17. This is comedy, after all. The stunts are stunts (yet some hits make one wince), the blood splats placed unconvincingly (if one is looking for verisimilitude), and, like Wile E. Coyote, the punched-out “teens” get up again to live to receive another blow. It’s those two almost-30 actresses—with a good supporting cast—who bring the comedy home. Rachel Sennott as PJ, leader of the queer duo, exudes a comedic sensibility unexpected from her break-out role in Seligman’s 2020 indie hit, “Shiva Baby.” As PJ’s sidekick Josie, Ayo Edebiri plays against type, at least the type she is as the usually calm, reticent, budding head chef Sydney in TV’s “The Bear” (for which she received an Emmy nomination). Everyone overacts, and is good at it.

 

The film courageously takes on the mantra of Wokeism.

 

The plotting is traditional (things go well, things go badly, things go well), the comedy standard (escapades that get out of hand, slapstick). It’s tempting to conclude “Bottoms” has no redeeming social value—its virtue is laughter, not social critique. And yet the film courageously takes on the mantra of Wokeism. In one seemingly serious scene reminiscent of 1985’s “The Breakfast Club,” the fight club girls (many nicely delineated in secondary roles) sit in a circle telling stories of abuse: of a lecherous stepfather, of multiple sexual assaults, of bullying, of an oversexed, uncaring mother. Despite the hint of a “safe space,” the script doesn’t let any of them dwell on these traumas; it simply moves on. There’s violence, fighting, and combat instead of discussion or analysis of issues.


Above, the girls of the "Self-defense Club": from left, Josie (Edebiri), PJ (Sennott), Annie (Zamani Wilder), Sylvie (Summer Joe Campbell), Isabel (Havana Rosse Liu), Brittany (Kaia Gerber), and Stella-Rebecca (Virginia Tucker).


The men in “Bottoms,” as in “Barbie,” are caricatures of hyper-masculinity. They’re led by the Ken-like quarterback, Jeff, their football uniforms apparently their only set of clothes. Nicholas Galitzine, who is also the clueless Prince Robert in Amazon films’ 2021 modern take on Cinderella, has perfected the narcissistic, self-adoring airhead role

(“I am so strong!”). Jeff is two-timing his cheerleader girlfriend by having sex with one of the Moms, a nod to Mrs. Robertson and an indication that “Bottoms” deserves its R rating.


Above, center, Nicholas Galitzine as Jeff, the quarterback. Galitzine has perfected the narcissistic, self-adoring airhead role.


Adult figures are mostly minor characters with little to contribute except for humor: the football-crazed principal, the randy Mom, a sage-like woman living in a trailer whom one can’t understand. One exception is the high school social studies teacher, Mr. G, an imposing black man in dreadlocks who is so completely bored with teaching (he reads porn magazines in the classroom while the students run wild) that he agrees to be the faculty sponsor for the girls’ “self-defense” club, knowing he won’t have to show up. Except he does, even in that consciousness-raising circle where he reveals something of himself. Marshawn Lynch of pro football fame is a marvelous comic talent here, a humorous stand-in for the viewer in his reactions to the girls and their antics. (Stay for his outtakes in the credits.)




Left, Marshawn Lynch of pro football fame is - as Mr. G, the disaffected social studies teacher - a marvelous comic talent.





 

Seligman’s solution to today’s siloed society is female solidarity.

 

In both her films to date, Seligman explores the lives of women confined. In “Shiva Baby,” Danielle is in a straitjacket of oppressive Jewish culture; in “Bottoms,” PJ and Josie are frustrated by their high school patriarchy’s expectations of their place in life. Seligman’s solution to today’s siloed society is female solidarity, the solidarity of the popular with the unpopular, of heterosexual with gay girls.


The pleasure of “Bottoms” is not just that it’s fun to watch, it’s also that, while engaging larger issues, it lets us not take ourselves too seriously. It’s an antidote to a culture in which gender identity, intersectionality, and DEI seem always to be taken earnestly, as if humor were a personal insult. Bring on the comics to allow us to imagine a way out of that impasse.

 

Date: 2023

Director: Emma Seligman

Starring: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Marshawn Lynch, Nicholas Galitzine, Ruby Cruz, Zamani Wilder, Summer Joe Campbell, Havana Rosse Liu, Kaia Gerber, and Virginia Tucker

Country: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 91 minutes

Other Awards: one win and one other nomination to date

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